Hindsight offers the edge of definitive lessons but what do you learn when the result was utter destruction. ‘The Legend of Virinara’ by Usha Alexandar is an intriguing take on the genre of historical fiction with a strong philosophical undertone. Through the story of Shanti and her perspective in the events that led up to the destruction of Virinara the author raises many questions on morality, hypocrisy, individual and national identity. Shanti’s tale is one that poses the conundrum, is there a right choice when individual integrity as a citizen of a nation and individual values of equality and justice begin to contradict and collide.
Rise and fall of Virinara
The end is a foregone conclusion as the novel is told in retrospective. The thriving kingdom of Virinara was wiped off the map all in the matter of few years. Decades later Shanti recounts that events that led up to the end and she is trying to find some closure as her time comes to an end. The setup is simple and speaks volumes about the capacity of the author. The unravelling story despite a revealed ending manages to hold the attention of the read with deep dives into the individual characters. Well fleshed out characters and distinct identities set in detailed environments make the world of Virinara come to life.
The city of Dandavrut is the capital of Virinara kingdom, built on the edge of Niryalli River and bordered by the forest where the Gontu dwell. The Gontu are forest tribal, who live in a nomadic lifestyle in harmony with the forest. As in every tale the conflict of Virinara and Gontu was inevitable. As Dandavrut expands into the forest to increase farming lands it encroaches on Gontu territory. This conflict is the seed to the events that end in destruction of both parties.
Shanti is a discarded, cripple, barren and ill-fated princess, who has no royal standing because her father disowned her. It is only after her father’s death and Vijay’s ascension that Shanti comes into her own being and exercises her will and freedom. She is an intellectual with little interest in the politics or power that comes with being born as royalty. Her curiosity and artistic mindset draw her away from the place and towards scholarly pursuits. She finds herself enamoured and embroiled into the liberated lives of Gontu people.
Shanti as the survivors of this tragedy, victim of situations despite being born into a place of power and one who shares bonds with both sides of conflict presents an interesting narrative voice that constantly swings back and forth. The ambiguity presented is undeniably true and realistic making the tale rather compelling and impactful. The author doesn’t attempt to give any easy answers but possess where fundamental but profound questions. The book is deceptive in its premise as a simple historical fiction but is very intense and hence may not be for everyone. If you want a whole lot of serious in your fiction, then this book is for you.
By: Shirish Kumar